Peer Review

There are times when we write in solitary and intend to keep our words private. However, in many cases, we use writing as a way of communicating. We send messages, present and explain ideas, share information, and make arguments. One way to improve the effectiveness of this written communication is through peer-review.

What is Peer-Review?

In the most general of terms, peer-review is the act of having another writer read what you have written and respond in terms of its effectiveness. This reader attempts to identify the writing's strengths and weaknesses, and then suggests strategies for revising it. The hope is that not only will the specific piece of writing be improved, but that future writing attempts will also be more successful. Peer-review happens with all types of writing, at any stage of the process, and with all levels of writers.

Sometimes peer-review is called a writing workshop.

What is a Writing Workshop?

Peer-review sessions are sometimes called writing workshops. For example, students in a writing class might bring a draft of some writing that they are working on to share with either a single classmate or a group, bringing as many copies of the draft as they will need. There is usually a worksheet to fill out or a set questions for each peer-review reader to answer about the piece of writing. The writer might also request that their readers pay special attention to places where he or she would like specific help. An entire class can get together after reading and responding to discuss the writing as a group, or a single writer and reader can privately discuss the response, or the response can be written and shared in that way only.

Whether peer-review happens in a classroom setting or not, there are some common guidelines to follow.

Common Guidelines for Peer-Review

While peer-review is used in multiple contexts, there are some common guidelines to follow in any peer-review situation.

If You are the Writer

If you are the writer, think of peer-review as a way to test how well your writing is working. Keep an open mind and be prepared for criticism. Even the best writers have room for improvement. Even so, it is still up to you whether or not to take the peer-review reader's advice. If more than one person reads for you, you might receive conflicting responses, but don't panic. Consider each response and decide for yourself if you should make changes and what those changes will be. Not all the advice you get will be good, but learning to make revision choices based on the response is part of becoming a better writer.

If You are the Reader

As a peer-review reader, you will have an opportunity to practice your critical reading skills while at the same time helping the writer improve their writing skills. Specifically, you will want to do as follows:

Read the draft through once

Start by reading the draft through once, beginning to end, to get a general sense of the essay as a whole. Don't write on the draft yet. Use a piece of scratch paper to make notes if needed.

Write a summary

After an initial reading, it is sometimes helpful to write a short summary. A well written essay should be easy to summarize, so if writing a summary is difficult, try to determine why and share that with the writer. Also, if your understanding of the writer's main idea(s) turns out to be different from what the writer intended, that will be a place they can focus their revision efforts.

Focus on large issues

Focus your review on the larger writing issues. For example, the misplacement of a few commas is less important than the reader's ability to understand the main point of the essay. And yet, if you do notice a recurring problem with grammar or spelling, especially to the extent that it interferes with your ability to follow the essay, make sure to mention it.

Be constructive

Be constructive with your criticisms. A comment such as "This paragraph was boring" isn't helpful. Remember, this writer is your peer, so treat him/her with the respect and care that they deserve. Explain your responses. "I liked this part" or "This section doesn't work" isn't enough. Keep in mind that you are trying to help the writer revise, so give him/her enough information to be able to understand your responses. Point to specific places that show what you mean. As much as possible, don't criticize something without also giving the writer some suggestion for a possible solution. Be specific and helpful.

Be positive

Don't focus only on the things that aren't working, but also point out the things that are.

With these common guidelines in mind, here are some specific questions that are useful when doing peer-review.

Questions to Use

When doing peer-review, there are different ways to focus a response. You can use questions that are about the qualities of an essay or the different parts of an essay.

Questions to Ask about the Qualities of an Essay

When doing a peer-review response to a piece of writing, one way to focus it is by answering a set of questions about the qualities of an essay. Such qualities would be:

Organization

  • Is there a clearly stated purpose/objective?
  • Are there effective transitions?
  • Are the introduction and conclusion focused on the main point of the essay?
  • As a reader, can you easily follow the writer's flow of ideas?
  • Is each paragraph focused on a single idea?
  • At any point in the essay, do you feel lost or confused?
  • Do any of the ideas/paragraphs seem out of order, too early or too late to be as effective as they could?

Development and Support

  • Is each main point/idea made by the writer clearly developed and explained?
  • Is the support/evidence for each point/idea persuasive and appropriate?
  • Is the connection between the support/evidence, main point/idea, and the overall point of the essay made clear?
  • Is all evidence adequately cited?

Style

  • Are the topic and tone of the essay appropriate for the audience?
  • Are the sentences and word choices varied?

Grammar and Mechanics

  • Does the writer use proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling?
  • Are there any issues with any of these elements that make the writing unreadable or confusing?

Revision Strategy Suggestions

  • What are two or three main revision suggestions that you have for the writer?

Questions to Ask about the Parts of an Essay

When doing a peer-review response to a piece of writing, one way to focus it is by answering a set of questions about the parts of an essay. Such parts would be:

Introduction

  • Is there an introduction?
  • Is it effective?
  • Is it concise?
  • Is it interesting?
  • Does the introduction give the reader a sense of the essay's objective and entice the reader to read on?

Body

  • Does it meet the objective stated in the introduction?
  • Does it stay focused on this objective or are there places it strays?
  • Is it organized logically?
  • Is each paragraph focused on a single idea?
  • Is each idea thoroughly explained and supported with good evidence?
  • Are there transitions and are they effective?

Conclusion

  • Is there a conclusion?
  • Does it work?

Revision Strategy Suggestions

  • What are two or three main revision suggestions that you have for the writer?

Peer-Review Online

Peer-review doesn't happen only in classrooms or in face-to-face situations. A writer can share a text with peer-review readers in the context of a Web classroom. In this context, the writer's text and the reader's response are shared electronically using file-sharing, e-mail attachments, or discussion forums/message boards.

When responding to a document in these ways, the specific method changes because the reader can't write directly on the document like they would if it were a paper copy. It is even more important in this context to make comments and suggestions clear by thoroughly explaining and citing specific examples from the text.

When working with an electronic version of a text, such as an e-mail attachment, the reader can open the document or copy/paste the text in Microsoft Word, or other word-processing software. In this way, the reader can add his or her comments, save and then send the revised document back to the writer, either through e-mail, file sharing, or posting in a discussion forum.

The reader's overall comments can be added either before or after the writer's section of text. If all the comments will be included at the end of the original text, it is still a good idea to make a note in the beginning directing the writer's attention to the end of the document. Specific comments can be inserted into appropriate places in the document, made clear by using all capital letters enclosed with parenthesis. Some word-processing software also has a highlighting feature that might be helpful.

Benefits of Peer Review

Peer-review has a reflexive benefit. Both the writer and the peer-review reader have something to gain. The writer profits from the feedback they get. In the act of reviewing, the peer-review reader further develops his/her own revision skills. Critically reading the work of another writer enables a reader to become more able to identify, diagnose, and solve some of their own writing issues.

Peer Review Worksheets

Here are a few worksheets that you can print out and use for a peer-review session.

Parts of an Essay

Writer

Name:

  • My audience is:
  • My purpose is:
  • The main point I want to make in this text is:
  • One or two things that I would appreciate your comments on are:

Reader

Name:

  • After reading through the draft one time, write a summary of the text. Do you agree with the writer's assessment of the text's main idea?
  • In the following sections, answer the questions that would be most helpful to the writer or that seem to address the most relevant revision concerns. Refer to specific places in their text, citing examples of what you mean. Use a separate piece of paper for your responses and comments. Also, write comments directly on the writer's draft where needed.

Introduction

  • Is there an introduction?
  • Is it effective? Concise? Interesting?
  • Does the introduction give the reader a sense of the essay's objective and entice the reader to read on?

Body

  • Does it meet the objective stated in the introduction?
  • Does it stay focused on this objective or are there places it strays?
  • Is it organized logically?
  • Is each paragraph focused on a single idea?
  • Is each idea thoroughly explained and supported with good evidence?
  • Are there transitions and are they effective?

Conclusion

  • Is there a conclusion? Does it work?

Finally, what are two or three revision suggestions you have for the writer?

Qualities of an Essay

Writer

Name:

  • My audience is:
  • My purpose is:
  • The main point I want to make in this text is:
  • One or two things that I would appreciate your comments on are:

Reader

Name:

  • After reading through the draft one time, write a summary of the text.
  • In the following sections, answer the questions that would be most helpful to the writer or that seem to address the most relevant revision concerns. Use a separate piece of paper for your responses and comments. Also, write comments directly on the writer's draft where needed.

Organization

  • Is there a clearly stated purpose/objective?
  • Are there effective transitions?
  • Are the introduction and conclusion focused on the main point of the essay?
  • As a reader, can you easily follow the writer's flow of ideas?
  • Is each paragraph focused on a single idea?
  • At any point in the essay, do you feel lost or confused?
  • Do any of the ideas/paragraphs seem out of order, too early or too late to be as effective as they could?

Development and Support

  • Is each main point/idea made by the writer clearly developed and explained?
  • Is the support/evidence for each point/idea persuasive and appropriate?
  • Is the connection between the support/evidence, main point/idea, and the overall point of the essay made clear?Is all evidence adequately cited?

Style

  • Are the topic and tone of the essay appropriate for the audience?
  • Are the sentences and word choices varied?

Grammar and Mechanics

  • Does the writer use proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling?
  • Are there any issues with any of these elements that make the writing unreadable or confusing?

Finally, what are two or three revision suggestions you have for the writer?

Citation Information

Jill Salahub. (1994-2021). Peer Review. The WAC Clearinghouse. Colorado State University. Available at https://wac.colostate.edu/resources/writing/guides/.

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